Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Salsoul Orchestra - The Salsoul Orchestra (1975)

This 1975 album introduced to the world to the slick yet groovy instrumental stylings of the Salsoul Orchestra, a group of Philadelphia session musicians spearheaded by vibes player Vincent Montana. Since many of the musicians (including Montana) also participated in the recordings of MFSB, it's not a big surprise that The Salsoul Orchestra explores a similar vein of orchestral soul. The difference between the two is that the Salsoul Orchestra explores a more Latin-oriented style with a heavy emphasis on congas and other forms of exotic percussion. This style is neatly encapsulated in the lead-off track "Salsoul Hustle," which is built on a contrast between a dreamy, string-led melody and a series of funky instrumental breakdowns spiced with conga tattoos. Other highlights in this style include "You're Just The Right Size," which layers sweet orchestrations and a female chorus cooing the title chant over a synthesizer-layered groove while "Salsoul Rainbow" glides forth on a fusillade of congas and wah-wah guitar riffs. On the downside, The Salsoul Orchestra occasionally allows their slickness to overpower their r&b backbone and the result is disco-flavored easy listening like "Tangerine" and "Love Letters." Another problem is the album's highlights, as funky as they are, often have a cookie-cutter feel to them: for instance, "Salsoul Hustle" and "Tale Of Three Cities" are built on strikingly similar arrangements that hinge on the contrast between string-led flights on fancy and funky grooves from the rhythm section. Despite these shortcomings, The Salsoul Orchestra shapes up as a solid disco album that will entertain anyone who enjoys orchestral soul. AMG - by Donald A. Guarisco.


1. Salsoul Hustle

2. Get Happy

3. Chicago Bus Stop

4. You're Just the Right Size

5. Tangerine

6. Tale of Three Cities

7. Salsoul Rainbow

8. Love Letters

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Radio Tarifa - Rumba Argelina (1996)

The concept of this debut album from Spain's leading roots ensemble is that you are listening to a radio broadcast in Tarifa, Spain's southernmost point, so that you might hear a mixture of sounds from Spain and North Africa. And indeed fuzzy, distant radio sounds introduce one song and close the album. The album features an incredible variety of instruments, including among many others: guitar, tar (Persian lute), buzuki (Greek mandolin), derbouka (North African clay drum), ney (Arabic flute), crumhorn (a loud, buzzing Medieval wind instrument), and the Indian harmonium. The group is not shy about including modern popular instruments like soprano and tenor saxophone, electric organ, and electric bass. The album features almost as many styles as it does instruments, yet they tend to come together as one new style, rather than sounding like a musical salad. The album starts off with the title track, a smooth mix of rumba and flamenco. "Oye, China" is a love lament that plays the layered clip-clop rhythm of the plucked instruments off the more continuous sounds of the accordion and the breathy nsuri (Indian bamboo flute). "Lamma bada" is a straight reading of one of the most oft-played tunes of the Arab world, using Radio Tarifa's favored instruments, retaining the song's modal structure (i.e., all the instruments, even the bass, playing the same line at once). One song later in the album stands out from all the rest. It is an adaptation of a song by a Medieval troubadour named Walter von der Vogelweide originally called "Nu Alrest Lebe Ich Mir Werde," but which Radio Tarifa simply calls "Nu Alrest." Dominated by the crumhorns and the melancholy tenor of Javier Raibal, "Nu Alrest" carries a potent charge of fantasy and sadness, conjuring images of crossing the desert alone on camel. It is imagination like this that makes Rumba Argelina one of the most important world music albums of the 1990s. AMG - by Kurt Keefner.

1. Rumba Argelina
2. Oye China
3. Lamma Bada
4. Mañana
5. La Canal
6. El Baile De La Bola
7. Soledad
8. La Mosca
9. Tagos Del Agujero
10. Nu Alrest
11. La Pastora
12. Ronda De Sanabria
13. Bulerias Turcas
14. Nina

Friday, November 28, 2008

The RH Factor - Hard Groove (2003)

A new musical vision for ace jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove has manifested itself in the form of Hard Groove. This neo-soul/jazz project showcases Erykah Badu, Common, D'Angelo, Marc Cary, and jam band icon saxophonist Karl Denson on a 14-track set that is laden with funk, groove, freestyle rap poetry, and sultry hip-hop/R&B mood swings. Hargrove's interesting horn and keyboard improvisations stem from extensive knowledge of each musician's work and, perhaps even more importantly, from close personal friendships developed as an underground club jam session warrior in N.Y.C. He also plays flügelhorn and percussion, and adds background vocals on several compositions. Opening with "Hardgroove," the set eases into a groove that is skillfully combined with Hargrove's meticulous riffs and segues into the band's free interpretation of an all-out jam session. "Common Free Style" is just that, a free rap session crammed with intimate details. This team-up works, and Common's prose style is exemplary in his choice of words and inspiring atmosphere. As one of the ladies who sings with the band, Grammy-winning Erykah Badu presents a valuable addition to the literature of hip-hop and jazz on several levels. On "Poetry," her rap is an entertaining and unpretentious chronicle of knowing the way to go in life, recounted with honesty and sincerity. Overall, Roy Hargrove has evolved as a hipper version of himself and given his listeners an entirely new musical direction than that heard on his Grammy-winning release Habana or his sensuous ballad recording Moment to Moment. Hard Groove is simply an exploration of his multidimensional musical attributes and his belated recognition of years of "open-eared moonlighting." In any case, the ultra-hip trumpeter manages not to alienate his die-hard jazz fans by intersecting with many of the icons of hip-hop, R&B, and neo-soul. Highly recommended. AMG - by Paula Edelstein

1. Hardgroove
2. Common Free Style
3. I'll Stay
4. Interlude
5. Pastor "T"
6. Poetry
7. The Joint
8. Forget Regret
9. Out Of Town
10. Liquid Streets
11. Kwah/Home
12. How I Know
13. Juicy
14. The Stroke

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden (1988)

Another piece of art, very different from what Talk Talk used to do. Experimental and deep sounds...

Compare Spirit of Eden with any other previous release in the Talk Talk catalog, and it's almost impossible to believe it's the work of the same band — exchanging electronics for live, organic sounds and rejecting structure in favor of mood and atmosphere, the album is an unprecedented breakthrough, a musical and emotional catharsis of immense power. Mark Hollis' songs exist far outside of the pop idiom, drawing instead on ambient textures, jazz-like arrangements, and avant-garde accents; for all of their intricacy and delicate beauty, compositions like "Inheritance" and "I Believe in You" also possess an elemental strength — Hollis' oblique lyrics speak to themes of loss and redemption with understated grace, and his hauntingly poignant vocals evoke wrenching spiritual turmoil tempered with unflagging hope. A singular musical experience. AMG - by Jason Ankeny.

1. The Rainbow
2. Eden
3. Desire
4. Inheritance
5. I Believe in You
6. Wealth

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Cinematic Orchestra - Every Day (2002)

Every Day, Cinematic Orchestra move beyond the electro-jazz fusion of their debut to make a record more natural, more paced, and, surprisingly, better than the justly hyped Motion. J Swinscoe is more the arranger/conductor here than the producer, but of course, there's little need for samples or effects with such an accomplished band sharing the burden. For the opener "All That You Give," Swinscoe and Co., plus harp player
Rhodri Davies, spend a few minutes delicately paving the way for a deeply felt vocal by soul hero Fontella Bass. "Burn Out" is a lush, meditative track with a pleasantly ambling solo from Phil France on electric piano, a few appropriately cinematic-sounding horns, an age-old vocal sample, and occasional creaking static phasing through. Bass returns for another splendid track ("Evolution"), and the mighty Roots Manuva appears on a magisterial, spoken-word quasi-autobiography, "All Things to All Men." Except for a pair of detours into highly programmed "broken beat" production, Every Day is a textured, acoustic work; Cinematic Orchestra take their time setting up these songs -- of the seven tracks, four last over nine minutes. The sounds and styles heard may not be revolutionary, but instead of simply pushing stylistic boundaries, Cinematic Orchestra display a real gift in making emotional, artistic music. AMG - by John Bush.


1. All That You Give (feat. Fontella Bass)
2. Burn Out
3. Flite
4. Evolution (feat. Fontella Bass)
5. Man With The Movie Camera
6. All Things To All Men (feat. Roots Manuva)
7. Everyday

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fela Kuti - Roforofo Fight (1972)

It's true that Fela's early-'70s records tend to blur together with their similar groupings of four lengthy Afro-funk-jazz cuts. In their defense, it must be said that while few artists can pull off similar approaches time after time and continue to make it sound fresh, Fela is one of them. Each of the four songs on the 1972 album Roforofo Fight clocks in at 12 to 17 minutes, and there's a slight slide toward more 1970s-sounding rhythms in the happy-feet beats of the title track and the varied yet rock-solid drums in "Go Slow." There's just a hint of reggae in "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am," in the pace, vocal delivery, ethereal keyboards, and lilting yet dramatic minor melodic lines. The James Brown influence is strongly heard in the lean, nervous guitar strums of "Question Jam Answer," and the horns cook in a way that they might have had
Brown been more inclined to let his bands go into improvisational jams. The 2001 MCA CD reissue of the album, retitled Roforofo Fight/The Fela Singles, adds two previously unreleased bonus tracks from the same era, "Shenshema" and "Ariya." AMG - by by Richie Unterberger


1. Roforofo Fight
2. Go Slow
3. Question Jam Answser
4. Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Curtis Mayfield - Curtis Live! (1971)

It's a sign of just how high a peak of musical and commercial success Curtis Mayfield had ascended that he could release two live albums within two years of each other, with two completely different sounds and repertories, and get well-deserved top sellers out of both. Curtis/Live! is, simply, one of the greatest concert albums ever cut on a soul artist, and one of the legendary live albums of all time. Cut in January of 1971 during four nights at the Bitter End (then Greenwich Village's leading music venue) in New York, the resulting double LP transcended any expectations in both its programming and execution -- Mayfield performed numbers off of the Curtis album ("Don't Worry If There's a Hell Below We're All Going to Go"), as well as exciting and urgent new versions of songs originally performed by the Impressions ("We're a Winner," "People Get Ready," "Gypsy Woman"), plus a very moving R&B version of "We've Only Just Begun." This is all beautifully stripped-down work by a quintet consisting of Mayfield (vocals, guitar), Craig McMullen (guitar), Tyrone McCullen (drums), "Master" Henry Gibson (percussion), and Joseph "Lucky" Scott (bass) -- a solid, intense performance, with quietly elegant guitar playing against a rock-solid rhythm section, as Impressions hits are rethought and reconfigured in a new context, and Mayfield's early solo repertory comes to life in newer, longer live versions. The second disc, Curtis In Chicago, consists of a different kind of show, a dream concert celebrating Mayfield's musical history and Curtom Records for which one is grateful the audio-tape machines were running properly (there was a public-television broadcast of the show, under the same name, that would be a choice video release today). Mayfield, the current Impressions, the original Impressions (including Jerry Butler), the successful mid-'60s version of the group; Gene Chandler (reworking "Duke of Earl"); and Leroy Hutson get to do their best songs, this time in a kind of big-band soul setting backed by the Curtom Rhythm Section augmented by the presence of Phil Upchurch. The sound is excellent on both discs, and the annotation is very thorough on this reissue. The British import from Sequel is currently the only way to get either of these albums on CD, and is a bargain. AMG - by Bruce Eder


1. Mighty Mighty
2. I Plan to Stay a Believer
3. We're a Winner
4. Rap
5. We've Only Just Begun
6. People Get Ready
7. Rap
8. Stare and Stare
9. Check Out Your Mind
10. Gypsy Woman
11. The Makings of You
12. Rap
13. We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue
14. (Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Going to Go
15. Stone Junkie
16. Superfly
17. Mighty Mighty